As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn’t offer sermons or prayers, unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead, she discovered she’d been granted an invaluable chance to witness firsthand what she calls the “spiritual work of dying”—the work of finding or making meaning of one’s life, the experiences it’s contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Instead of talking, she mainly listened: to stories of hope and regret, shame and pride, mystery and revelation and secrets held too long. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love—love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn’t know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they, sometimes belatedly, learned to grant themselves.
This isn’t a book about dying—it’s a book about living. And Egan isn’t just passively bearing witness to these stories. An emergency procedure during the birth of her first child left her physically whole but emotionally and spiritually adrift. Her work as a hospice chaplain healed her, from a brokenness she came to see we all share. Each of her patients taught her something—how to find courage in the face of fear or the strength to make amends; how to be profoundly compassionate and fiercely empathetic; how to see the world in grays instead of black and white. In this poignant, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.
In the spirit of Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott, Kerry Egan describes her journey from grief to faith in this candid, spiritually profound account of her pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrim route through Northern Spain.
Kerry Egan, a student at Harvard Divinity School, became a pilgrim at the age of twenty-five, a year after the death of her father. Watching her father die had shattered the image of God Egan grew up with and undermined the theology she studied in school; she embarked on her pilgrimage full of hope and dread at the same time.
Fumbling is the moving journal of Egan’s experiences as she and her boyfriend traveled from the Pyrenees in southern France through the valleys of Navarra and westward through Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, said to contain the remains of Saint James. The idea of pilgrimage rests on the belief that in some places the Divine is especially available to human beings and that the journey itself—the time spent as a pilgrim—is transformative, cleansing, and purifying. Egan was well versed in theories about grieving and the purpose of a pilgrimage, but it was through walking eight or ten hours a day that she first began to understand what grief really was and to recognize God’s presence in everyday people and places.
With humor and unabashed honesty, Egan records her struggles to deal with muddy roads, blistering heat, and grouchy moods. She describes fellow pilgrims of many nationalities, the humble abodes that provide them shelter, and the beautiful, often challenging, landscape. Each incident, encounter, and hard-won mile shapes her internal journey. The repetitiveness of walking frees her to meditate for long periods, the rhythm of her breathing awakens an awareness of the connections of breath, life, and God so central to the teachings of Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and the most unlikely events—from discovering chickens in church to the pleasure of having a pizza at a train station—remind her that prayer is as at once as simple and as profound as seeing and acknowledging the joys and beauty of life.
A story of overcoming anger and sadness and finding joy and redemption, Fumbling illuminates the power of grief to enhance our relationship with God.